Federal Personnel: Conversion of Employees from Appointed (Noncareer) Positions to Career Positions in the Executive Branch
Prepared for Members and Committees of Congress
The term “burrowing in” is sometimes used to describe an employment status conversion
whereby an individual transfers from a federal appointed (noncareer) position to a career position
in the executive branch. Critics of such conversions note that they often occur during the
transitional period in which the outgoing administration prepares to leave office and the incoming
administration prepares to assume office. Conversions are permissible when laws and regulations
governing career appointments are followed, but they can invite scrutiny because of the
differences in the appointment and tenure of noncareer and career employees.
Appointments to career positions in the executive branch are governed by law and regulations
that are codified in Title 5 of the United States Code and Title 5 of the Code of Federal
Regulations, and are defined as personnel actions. In taking a personnel action, each department
and agency head is responsible for preventing prohibited personnel practices; for complying with,
and enforcing, applicable civil service laws, rules, and regulations and other aspects of personnel
management; and for ensuring that agency employees are informed of the rights and remedies
available to them. Such actions are required to adhere to the merit principles and prohibited
personnel practices that are codified at 5 U.S.C. §2301(b) and §2302(b), respectively. These
principles and practices are designed to ensure that the process for selecting career employees is
fair and open (competitive), and without political influence. The Office of Personnel Management
(OPM) has general authority to examine conversions. Additionally, from March 17, 2008, through
January 20, 2009, conversions of employees from noncareer positions to career positions in the
competitive service and the career Senior Executive Service are subject to pre-appointment
review by OPM. Certain senior politically appointed officers are prohibited from receiving
financial awards during the Presidential Election Period, defined in statute and currently covering
June 1, 2008, through January 20, 2009.
As part of its oversight of government operations, Congress also monitors conversions. In the th
110 Congress, staffing at the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice (DOJ) has
been of particular interest. Both departments received letters from Members of Congress
reminding them to examine conversions: the Chairman of the House Committee on Homeland
Security, Representative Bennie Thompson, wrote to the DHS Secretary in February 2008, and
Senators Dianne Feinstein and Charles Schumer, members of the Senate Committee on the
Judiciary, wrote to the Attorney General in July 2008 about this issue. In assessing the current
situation, Congress may decide that the existing oversight is sufficient. If Congress determines
that additional measures are needed, OPM, and the departments and agencies, could be directed
to include information on conversions in their annual performance plans accompanying the
budget justifications. The Government Accountability Office and OPM could be asked to explore
options that might result in their recommending and taking timely remedial actions that are seen
as necessary to address conversions that occurred under improper procedures. This report will be
updated as events dictate.
Backgr ound ............................................................................................................................... 1
Selected Law and Regulations..................................................................................................2
Oversight of Conversions from Noncareer to Career Positions................................................5
The Current Transition Period...................................................................................................7
Considerations to Enhance Oversight.......................................................................................8
Table 1. Merit System Principles and Prohibited Personnel Practices...........................................2
Author Contact Information..........................................................................................................10
Some individuals, who are serving in appointed (noncareer) positions in the executive branch,
convert to career positions in the competitive service, the Senior Executive Service (SES), or the 1
excepted service. This practice, commonly referred to as “burrowing in,” is permissible when
laws and regulations governing career appointments are followed. While such conversions may
occur at any time, frequently they do so during the transition period when one administration is
preparing to leave office and another administration is preparing to assume office.
Generally, these appointees were selected noncompetitively and are serving in such positions as 2
Schedule C, noncareer SES, or limited tenure SES that involve policy determinations or require a
close and confidential relationship with the department or agency head and other top officials. 3
Many of the Schedule C appointees receive salaries at the GS-12 through GS-15 pay levels. The
noncareer and limited tenure members of the SES receive salaries under the pay schedule for 4
senior executives that also covers the career SES. Career employees, on the other hand, are to be
selected on the basis of merit and without political influence following a process that is to be fair
and open in evaluating their knowledge, skills, and experience against those of other applicants.
The tenure of noncareer and career employees also differs. The former are generally limited to the
term of the administration in which they are appointed or serve at the pleasure of the person who
appointed them. The latter constitute a work force that continues the operations of government
without regard to the change of administrations.
Paul Light, a professor of government at New York University, who has studied appointees over
the past several administrations, reportedly believes that the pay, benefits, and job security of 5
career positions underlie the desire of individuals in noncareer positions to “burrow in.” The
President of the Senior Executives Association, Carol Bonosaro, echoed this viewpoint in stating
Remember, not everybody who comes in is going to have a very high-profile job where they
are going to be able to leave and make really good money.... Not everyone has had
1 Appointments to career competitive service positions include requirements for approved qualification standards,
public announcement of job vacancies, rating of applicants, and completion of a probationary period and three years of
continuous service; career SES positions include review by the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) and
certification of a candidate’s ability by a Qualifications Review Board; and career excepted service positions allow
agencies to establish their own hiring procedures, but require those systems to conform to merit system principles and
2 Appointments to SES positions that have a limited term may be for up to 36 months, and those that are to meet an
emergency (unanticipated or urgent need) may be for up to 18 months.
3 GS refers to the General Schedule, the pay schedule that covers white-collar employees in the federal government. As
of January 2008, the salaries from GS-12, step 1, to GS-15, step 10, in the Washington, DC, pay area ranged from
$69,764 to $149,000.
4 Salaries for members of the SES are determined annually by agency heads “under a rigorous performance
management system,” and range from the minimum rate of basic pay for a senior level (SL) employee (120% of the
minimum basic pay rate for GS-15; $114,468, as of January 2008) to either EX Level III ($158,500, as of January
2008), in agencies whose performance appraisal systems have not been certified by OPM as making “meaningful
distinctions based on relative performance,” or EX Level II ($172,200, as of January 2008), in agencies whose
performance appraisal systems have been so certified.
5 Christopher Lee, “Political Appointees Burrowing In,” Washington Post, October 5, 2007, p. A19.
necessarily a strong enough background to go back out. They may just have been a campaign 6
Beyond the fundamental concern that the conversion of an individual from an appointed
(noncareer) position to a career position may not have followed the legal and regulatory
requirements, “burrowing in” raises other concerns. When the practice occurs, there may be these
perceptions (whether valid or not): that an appointee converting to a career position may limit the
opportunity for other employees (who were competitively selected for their career positions,
following examination of their knowledge, skills, and experience) to be promoted into another
career position with greater responsibility and pay; or that the individual who is converted to a
career position may seek to undermine the work of the new administration whose policies may be
at odds with those that he or she espoused when serving in the appointed capacity. Both
perceptions may increase the tension between noncareer and career staff, thereby hindering the
effective operation of government at a time when the desirability of creating “common ground” 7
between these staff to facilitate government performance has been emphasized.
Appointment to a career position in the executive branch is governed by law and regulations, and 8
is defined in law as a type of personnel action. In taking any personnel action, including
appointment to a career position, each department and agency head is responsible for preventing
prohibited personnel practices; for complying with, and enforcing, applicable civil service laws,
rules, and regulations and other aspects of personnel management; and for ensuring that agency
employees are informed of the rights and remedies available to them. Personnel actions must
adhere to the nine merit principles and 12 prohibited personnel practices that are codified in Title
5 of the United States Code at 5 U.S.C. §§2301(b) and 2302(b), respectively. Table 1 below
presents these principles and practices.
Table 1. Merit System Principles and Prohibited
Merit System Principles Prohibited Personnel Practices
Recruit from qualified individuals to achieve a Discriminating for or against any employee or applicant for
workforce from all segments of society; selection employment on the basis of race, color, religion, sex, national
and advancement solely on the basis of relative origin, age, handicapping condition, marital status, or political
ability, knowledge, and skills; and assure equal affiliation.
opportunity through fair and open competition.
7 See, for example, Maranto, Robert, Beyond a Government of Strangers: How Career Executives and Political
Appointees Can Turn Conflict to Cooperation, Lanham: Lexington Books, 2005; and Dana Michael Harsell, “Working
With Career Executives to Manage for Results,” in IBM Center for The Business of Government, Essays on Working
in Washington, The Center: January 2005, pp. 34-44.
8 The law, codified at 5 U.S.C. §2302(a), defines personnel actions as appointments; promotions; adverse actions or
other disciplinary or corrective action; details, transfers, or reassignments; reinstatements; restorations; reemployment;
performance evaluations; decisions concerning pay, benefits, or awards, concerning education or training, if such may
reasonably be expected to lead to a personnel action; a decision to order psychiatric testing or examination; and any
other significant change in duties, responsibilities, or working conditions.
Merit System Principles Prohibited Personnel Practices
Fair and equitable treatment of employees and Soliciting or considering any recommendation or statement, oral
applicants for employment in all aspects of or written, with respect to any individual who requests, or is
personnel management without regard to under consideration for, any personnel action unless such
political affiliation, race, color, religion, national recommendation or statement is based on the personal
origin, sex, marital status, age, or handicapping knowledge or records of the person furnishing it, and consists of
condition, and with proper regard for their an evaluation of the work performance, ability, aptitude, or
privacy and constitutional rights. general qualifications of such individual, or an evaluation of the
character, loyalty, or suitability of such individual.
Equal pay for work of equal value, with Coercing the political activity of any person (including the
appropriate consideration of both national and providing of any political contribution or service) or taking any
local rates paid by employers in the private action against any employee or applicant for employment as a
sector, and appropriate incentives and reprisal for the refusal of any person to engage in such political
recognition for excellence in performance. activity.
Employee adherence to high standards of Deceiving or willfully obstructing any person with respect to
integrity, conduct, and concern for the public such person’s right to compete.
Efficient and effective use of the federal work Influencing any person to withdraw from competition for any
force. position for the purpose of improving or injuring the prospects
of any other person for employment.
Retain employees on the basis of the adequacy of Granting any preference or advantage not authorized by law,
their performance; correct inadequate rule, or regulation to any employee or applicant for employment
performance; and separate those who cannot or (including defining the scope or manner of competition or the
will not improve performance to meet required requirements for any position) for the purpose of improving or
standards. injuring the prospects of any particular person for employment.
Provide employees effective education and Appointing, employing, promoting, advancing, or advocating
training to improve organizational and individual such, in or to a civilian position any individual who is a relative of
performance. such employee if such position is in the agency in which such
employee is serving as a public official or over which such
employee exercises jurisdiction or control as an official.
Protect employees against arbitrary action, Taking or failing to take, or threatening such, a personnel action
personal favoritism, or coercion for partisan with respect to any employee or applicant for employment
political purposes, and prohibit the use of official because of any disclosure of information, including to the Special
authority or influence to interfere with or affect Counsel or an agency Inspector General, by the individual which
the result of an election or a nomination for he or she reasonably believes evidences a violation of any law,
election. rule, or regulation, or gross mismanagement, a gross waste of
funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and specific danger
to public health or safety; provided the disclosure is not
specifically prohibited by law and if such information is not
specifically required by executive order to be kept secret in the
interest of national defense or the conduct of foreign affairs.
Merit System Principles Prohibited Personnel Practices
Protect employees against reprisal for the lawful Taking or failing to take, or threatening such, any personnel
disclosure of information reasonably believed to action against any employee or applicant for employment
evidence a violation of any law, rule, or because of the exercise of any appeal, complaint, or grievance
regulation, or mismanagement, a gross waste of right granted by any law, rule, or regulation; testifying for, or
funds, an abuse of authority, or a substantial and otherwise lawfully assisting, any individual in the exercise of any
specific danger to public health or safety. right referred to above; cooperating with or disclosing
information to, the Inspector General of an agency, or the
special counsel, in accordance with the law; or for refusing to
obey an order that would require the individual to violate a law.
Discriminating for or against any employee or applicant for
employment on the basis of conduct which does not adversely
affect the performance of the individual or the performance of
others; except this shall not prohibit an agency from taking into
account, in determining suitability or fitness, any conviction of
the employee or applicant for any crime under federal, state, or
District of Columbia law.
Knowingly taking, recommending, or approving, or failing to do
such, any personnel action if the taking of, or failing to take, such
action would violate a veterans’ preference requirement.
Taking or failing to take any other personnel action if such would
violate any law, rule, or regulation implementing, or directly
concerning, the merit system principles.
Department and agency heads also must follow regulations, codified at Title 5 of the Code of
Federal Regulations, that govern career appointments. Among these are Civil Service Rules 4.2
Sec. 4.2. Prohibition against racial, political or religious discrimination. No person
employed in the executive branch of the Federal Government who has authority to take or
recommend any personnel action with respect to any person who is an employee in the
competitive service or any eligible or [sic] applicant for a position in the competitive service
shall make any inquiry concerning the race, political affiliation, or religious beliefs of any
such employee, eligible, or applicant. All disclosures concerning such matters shall be
ignored, except as to such membership in political parties or organizations as constitutes by
law a disqualification for Government employment. No discrimination shall be exercised,
threatened, or promised by any person in the executive branch of the Federal Government
against or in favor of any employee in the competitive service, or any eligible or applicant
for a position in the competitive service because of his race, political affiliation, or religious
beliefs, except as may be authorized or required by law.
Sec. 7.1 Discretion in filling vacancies. In his discretion, an appointing officer may fill any
position in the competitive service either by competitive appointment from a civil service
register or by noncompetitive selection of a present or former Federal employee, in
accordance with the Civil Service Regulations. He shall exercise his discretion in all
personnel actions solely on the basis of merit and fitness and without regard to political or
religious affiliations, marital status, or race.
Other regulations provide that Office of Personnel Management (OPM) approval is required
before employees in Schedule C positions may be detailed to competitive service positions,
public announcement is required for all SES vacancies that will be filled by initial career
appointment, and details to SES positions that are reserved for career employees (known as 9
Career-Reserved) may only be filled by career SES or career-type non-SES appointees.
During the period June 1, 2008, through January 20, 2009, defined as the Presidential Election 10
Period, certain appointees are prohibited from receiving financial awards. These appointees,
referred to as senior politically appointed officers, are
• individuals serving in noncareer SES positions;
• individuals serving in confidential or policy determining positions as Schedule C
• individuals serving in limited term and limited emergency positions.
When a department or agency, for example, converts an employee from an appointed (noncareer)
position to a career position without any apparent change in duties and responsibilities, or that
appears to be tailored to the individual’s knowledge and experience, such actions may invite
scrutiny. OPM and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) each conduct oversight related
to conversions of employees from noncareer to career positions to ensure that proper procedures
have been followed.
In addition to its general oversight authority, OPM conducts pre-appointment reviews of certain
appointments to career positions in the competitive service and the SES during the transition. The
agency announces this review in a memorandum to the heads of departments and agencies early
in the year in which the presidential election occurs. OPM released the memorandum covering
the 2008 transition on March 17, 2008, and it is effective from that date through January 20,
2009. According to the memorandum, OPM must specifically authorize the following actions by
a department or agency:
Proposed competitive service appointment actions that involve a current or former (within
the last five years) incumbent of an executive branch position excepted from the competitive
service under Schedule C.
Proposed competitive service appointment actions that involve a current or former (within 11
the last five years) Noncareer Senior Executive Service (SES) appointee.
When a department or agency proposes selections to the SES that involve a current or former
Schedule C or noncareer SES appointee, OPM will conduct merit reviews before the candidate is 12
formally presented to a Qualifications Review Board.
9 These regulations are codified at 5 C.F.R. §300.301(c), 5 C.F.R. §317.501, and 5 C.F.R. §317.903(c), respectively.
10 5 U.S.C. §4508 and 5 C.F.R. §451.105.
11 U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Memorandum for Heads of Departments and Agencies, from Linda M.
Springer, Director, Appointments and Awards During the 2008 Presidential Election Period, March 17, 2008,
Attachment 1. (Hereafter referred to as Appointments and Awards During the 2008 Presidential Election Period.)
12 According to OPM, “Qualifications Review Boards (QRBs) are OPM-administered independent boards of senior
executives that assess the executive core qualifications of SES candidates [that] must certify that an SES candidate has
the broad leadership skills to be successful in a variety of SES positions.”
A “Pre-Appointment Review Checklist” is included as an attachment to the OPM memorandum
and lists the documentation that a department’s or agency’s Director of Human Resources must
submit to OPM along with a dated cover letter. The documentation includes the following:
• The position descriptions for the candidate’s current or former appointment and
the proposed appointment, including information on why and how the respective
positions were established and the relationship between the positions.
• A statement that explains the disposition of the proposed selectee’s current
Schedule C or noncareer SES position, if vacated.
• The complete file for the proposed merit selection, including the vacancy
announcement published in USAJOBS on OPM’s website; recruiting sources and
advertising methods used in addition to USAJOBS; the job analysis, justification
of any selective factor, and rating schedule/crediting plan; applications from all
candidates who applied with information on how each was rated; information on
how the regulatory requirements of the Interagency Career Transition Assistance
Program were met; and the referral list(s) issued to the selecting official and the
completed referral list documenting the tentative selection.
• A description of candidate sources considered other than from a competitive
vacancy announcement and the resulting referral lists forwarded to the selecting
official, if any.
• The name, title, telephone number, and type of appointment (e.g., career SES,
Schedule C, presidential appointee) of the selecting official.
OPM cautions departments and agencies not to
[C]reate or announce a competitive service vacancy for the sole purpose of selecting a
current or former Schedule C or Noncareer SES employee.
[R]emove the Schedule C or Noncareer SES elements of a position solely to appoint the 13
incumbent into the competitive service.
To assist departments and agencies, OPM also publishes the Presidential Transition Guide to 14
Federal Human Resources Management every four years. The current edition, released in June
2008, includes detailed guidance on standards of ethical conduct, appointments, and
compensation for federal employees.
GAO’s oversight focuses on review, after the fact, of conversions from noncareer to career
positions. The agency has begun to collect data from executive branch departments and agencies
on such conversions that have occurred since its last evaluation was published in May 2006. The
results of that audit covered the period May 2001 through April 2005, and provide the most
current retrospective data. The evaluation found that, of 130 conversions at GS-12 or higher,
for 37 of these conversions it appears that agencies did not follow proper procedures or
agencies did not provide enough information for us to make an assessment. For 18 of the 37
13 Appointments and Awards During the 2008 Presidential Election Period, Attachment 4.
14 U.S. Office of Personnel Management, Presidential Transition Guide to Federal Human Resources Management,
June 2008, available at http://www.chcoc.gov/Transmittals/Attachments/trans1300.pdf.
of these conversions, it appears that agencies did not follow proper procedures. Some of the
apparent improper procedures included: selecting former noncareer appointees who appeared
to have limited qualifications and experience for career positions, creating career positions
specifically for particular individuals, and failing to apply veteran’s preference in the 15
The GAO findings are examined closely by Congress, as evidenced by correspondence sent to the
OPM director by Representatives Henry Waxman (then the Ranking Member, and now the
Chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform) and Danny Davis
(then the Ranking Member, and now the Chairman of the House Subcommittee on Federal
Workforce and Agency Organization) following the most recent evaluation. In a letter dated May
25, 2006, both Members directed OPM’s attention to the GAO evaluation and urged the agency to
consider whether its procedures for pre-appointment review of conversions “are sufficient to
prevent further abuses.” The letter emphasized that, “The merit-based federal workforce is critical
to ensuring a competent government that will enforce laws consistently across administrations” 16
and stated that selecting political appointees on the basis of favoritism jeopardizes this.
Members and committees of Congress scrutinize conversions as part of their oversight of th
government operations. Particular focus in the 110 Congress, for example, has been on staffing
at the Departments of Homeland Security (DHS) and Justice (DOJ), especially in the wake of the
leadership and management deficiencies at DHS during and after Hurricane Katrina, and 17
improper procedures used by DOJ staff in selecting and removing United States attorneys.
In a January 2008 report to the DHS Secretary on the transition, the Homeland Security Advisory
Council recommended that the department “consider current political appointees with highly 18
specialized and needed skills for appropriate career positions.” That same month, an entry in the
DHS leadership journal, published on the department’s website, discussed transition planning.
Then Acting Deputy Secretary Paul Schneider wrote that,
as part of this planning, we’re filling some of the top jobs previously held by political
appointees with career professionals. For example, last year, we made Jay Ahern, a 30-year
veteran of the federal government, second-in-command of our Customs and Border
15 U.S. Government Accountability Office, Personnel Practices; Conversions of Employees from Noncareer to Career
Positions May 2001-April 2005. GAO-06-381 (Washington: GAO, May 2006), pp. 4-5. For a discussion of findings
from earlier GAO evaluations, seeCRS Report RL34722, Presidential Transitions: Issues Involving Outgoing and
Incoming Administrations, by L. Elaine Halchin.
16 Letter from Representatives Henry A. Waxman and Danny K. Davis, to Linda M. Springer, Director of the Office of
Personnel Management, May 25, 2006.
17 See, for example, U.S. Congress, House Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation For and
Response to Hurricane Katrina, A Failure of Initiative: Final Report of the Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate thnd
the Preparation For and Response to Hurricane Katrina, 109 Cong., 2 sess. (Washington: GPO, February 15,
2006); U.S. Congress, Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, Hurricane Katrina: A thnd
Nation Still Unprepared. Special Report, 109 Cong., 2 sess., S.Rept. 109-322 (Washington: GPO, 2006); and U.S.
Department of Justice, Office of Professional Responsibility and Office of the Inspector General, An Investigation of
Allegations of Politicized Hiring by Monica Goodling and Other Staff in the Office of the Attorney General, July 28,
18 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Advisory Council, Report of the Administration
Transition Task Force, January 2008, p. 6.
Protection component. Just recently, at our Transportation Security Administration, we filled
our deputy slot with Gale Rossides, who also has had a 30-year federal career and has served
at TSA since its inception six years ago. And we are training and cross-training such senior
career people to ensure that DHS will have the continuity of leadership it needs following the 19
The Wall Street Journal discussed the initiative in a January 11, 2008, article noting that DHS
“has begun an unusual—and potentially controversial—effort to smooth the transition to a new 20
administration.” On February 7, 2008, Representative Bennie Thompson, Chairman of the
House Committee on Homeland Security, wrote a letter to DHS Secretary Michael Chertoff. He
reiterated his concerns about personnel vacancies at DHS and stated these views:
I am sure that you would agree that it would be inappropriate to fill career non-political
executive level positions with political appointees absent an open and fully competitive
process. While I understand that some could argue that these individuals may be well-
qualified and can provide continuity during a transition period, others could well argue that
to permit political appointees to occupy non-political positions could be viewed by some as
an attempt to insulate political appointees from the vagaries of the political appointment
system and provide an internal obstruction to the policies of the new administration. Clearly, 21
the latter interpretation is deeply troubling.
Representative Thompson also requested that Secretary Chertoff “issue a policy directive to
prohibit the ‘burrowing in’ of political appointees into non-political career positions within the 22
Department.” CRS research did not locate a publicly available record of any such directive.
With regard to personnel actions at the Department of Justice, Senators Dianne Feinstein and
Charles Schumer, members of the Senate Committee on the Judiciary, reportedly wrote a letter to
Attorney General Michael Mukasey on July 24, 2008. According to the Washington Post, the
letter asked the Attorney General to “exercise vigilance” against political appointees moving into
career positions, and stated that
When unqualified political appointees take over jobs better left to skilled candidates, it
threatens the agency’s professionalism and independence. We don’t need ideological 23
stowaways undermining the work of the next administration.
In assessing the current situation, Congress may decide that the existing system of oversight is
sufficient. However, if Congress determines that additional measures are needed to further ensure
that conversions from appointed (noncareer) positions to career positions are conducted according
to proper procedures and transparent, the following options could be considered:
19 U.S. Department of Homeland Security, Leadership Journal, “Transition: Heads We Win, Tails You Lose,” January
19, 2008, available at http://www.dhs.gov/journal/leadership/2008/01/transition-heads-we-win-tails-you-lose.html.
20 Siobhan Gorman, “Politics and Economics: Homeland Security Handoff; Career Employees Move Into Positions
Once Held by Political Appointees,” Wall Street Journal, January 11, 2008, p. A5.
21 Letter from Representative Bennie G. Thompson to Michael Chertoff, Secretary of the Department of Homeland
Security, February 7, 2008.
23 Carrie Johnson, “Mukasey Asked to Watch for Lingerers,” Washington Post, July 25, 2008, p. A8.
• OPM could be directed by Congress to report on the results of its examinations of
conversions, including those that are subject to pre-appointment review. The
report could be included in the agency’s annual performance plan that
accompanies the budget justification submitted to the House and Senate
Committees on Appropriations each February. It could provide information on
conversions that did not follow proper procedures and the remedial actions taken,
and discuss whether any amendments to current law are needed to ensure that the
legal and regulatory requirements are met. OPM is authorized to review awards
programs at departments and agencies. Congress could direct OPM to review
awards granted in the executive branch and certify in its annual performance plan
that awards were not granted during the Presidential Election Period.
• OPM could be directed by Congress to report on whether any changes are needed
in the time period covered by the agency’s pre-appointment review of
conversions, or in the Presidential Election Period, that restricts awards to senior
politically appointed officers. OPM issued its memorandum on pre-appointment
review for 2000 on February 18; for 2004, on March 18; and for 2008, on March
17. As discussed above, the dates of the Presidential Election Period are defined
by law, and in a presidential election year, cover the period from June 1 through
the following January 20.
• Congress could mandate that the annual performance plans that accompany
department and agency budget justifications submitted to Congress in February
of each year include information on conversions during the applicable fiscal year.
The performance plan submitted in the month following the inauguration of the
President could include a certification that awards were not granted during the
Presidential Election Period.
• Departments and agencies could mandate that all officials with hiring authority
be required to annually certify, in writing, that they understand the legal and
regulatory requirements on the conversion of employees from appointed
(noncareer) positions to career positions and on the prohibition on awards during
the Presidential Election Period. A training session, that could be available
electronically, could be provided to those officials who desire to review their
knowledge and understanding of the procedures. A hiring official’s failure to
follow the proper procedures could be noted on the individual’s performance
• GAO and OPM could jointly explore options for the personnel agency, and the
departments and agencies, to expedite the transmittal of information on
conversions to GAO so that any necessary remedial actions can be recommended
by GAO and taken by OPM quickly, and closer to the time that the conversions
Barbara L. Schwemle
Analyst in American National Government